Greater Regulation is on the Horizon for the Blue Economy – And Those Who Effectively Engage with Policy Makers Will Fully Reap The Benefits

By Oliver DREWES, Senior Executive Director, Public Affairs – Belgium and Hamish DOCHERTY, Vice President, Corporate Affairs – Scotland

With more than 4 billion people expected to vote in elections in 2024, for those with interests in the blue economy, the European Parliament elections in June will be highly significant. For there are signs that the new parliament could bring in regulations that may stifle (rather than foster) the growth of the blue economy.

The EU is in the midst of defining a comprehensive approach to the blue economy, casting a net that, according to the European Commission covers “all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts”. Through various recent policy developments, including announcements around its ‘Green Deal’, the EU seeks to enable the “sustainable growth in marine and maritime sectors”, covering everything from offshore renewable energy, through to aquaculture, shipping and even tourism.

The EU’s blue economy strategy will certainly be a topic of debate in the lead up to elections in June, with some suggesting that the EU could appoint a specific Commissioner for ‘Blue Growth’ as part of a wider strategy for the sector. Not only will this impact those with operations within the EU, but also those who trade or engage with EU countries.

Recent policy developments, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which is currently under review, could lead to a number of sectors within the blue economy being faced with a competing set of challenges and rules.

It is widely recognised that the blue economy plays a key role in the European and global economy – from job creation and social welfare, through to sustainability, environmental protection and conservation. As such, policy makers see the need ensure the sector grows sustainably.

While regulation aims to improve standards and protect consumers and businesses alike, done poorly, it has the potential to hamper genuine economic and sustainable growth. To thrive, the sector needs a favourable and predictable innovation and investment environment, with efficient administrative procedures and supportive regulation.

With the blue economy likely to come under the regulatory spotlight, how should those involved in the sector ensure that any new frameworks or rulemaking enables rather than stifles business growth?

Stakeholder mapping and engagement

The latest opinion polls suggest there will be a significant change to the political landscape following the European Parliament’s elections in June. Therefore, in the run up to the election, it will be vital to start building relationships with those most likely to become key decision-makers. Understanding the players, relationships and motivations of those responsible for policy making within the blue economy will be key to fostering a supportive regulatory landscape. Identification and engagement with them should start now, before campaigning gets into full swing.

Building your inter-regulatory business case

Policy makers, many of whom may have little or no experience in the blue economy, will be in charge of formulating and developing policies and frameworks to govern the sector. Therefore, it will be necessary to develop a narrative to help inform these policies. Only by telling your story effectively and accurately, can you minimise the chances of your business getting tangled in the regulatory net.

Development of an overarching engagement and communications strategy for the next six months

The next six months represents a pivotal period for the sector. Before new political realities and stakeholder coalitions are set in stone, the implementation of a comprehensive engagement and communications strategy will be fundamental. From maintaining a regular dialogue with employees and partners, through to engagement with political and other external stakeholders, this strategy needs to be rooted in your business objectives. By identifying who you need to influence, and understanding how, you can play a significant role in the debate over the future of the blue economy – enabling your business to thrive.

In a year of turbulence and instability largely resulting from factors outside of your control, for those operating in the blue economy, there is an opportunity to inform and help direct the policies that will shape the sector for the next decade. The blue economy offers huge economic, social and environmental benefits in Europe and across the globe. Now is the time to work closely with policy makers to fully realise the potential of this rapidly evolving and innovative sector.

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